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Library of Congress Geography & Maps: An Illustrated Guide

Multi-Sheet Map Sets

The Geography and Map Division Set Map collection, which consists of multiple sheets of maps published at a uniform size and utilizing standardized symbols, is made up of approximately two million map sheets, found within 12,000 sets. This constitutes the largest and most comprehensive collection of medium- and large-scale map sets ever assembled. Virtually every major national mapping organization is represented. These sets encompass such diverse subjects as general topographic maps, thematic maps depicting special subjects such as geology, land use, and census data, large-scale plans of cities, transportation maps, aeronautical charts, and hydrographic charts.

The geographical coverage dates from the beginning of large-scale topographic mapping and nautical charting in the eighteenth century. Sets produced before 1900 focus more heavily on Western Europe, reflecting the longer tradition of large-scale mapping in this region. Sets produced during the first half of the twentieth century provide good coverage for Europe, East Asia, and portions of Africa since these regions were heavily mapped by competing armies or colonial powers. With the end of the Cold War, the division has once again begun acquiring current, large-scale topographic sets of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Because of the time and cost of surveying large areas at a detailed scale, most of the map sets were produced by official mapping organizations.

The collection has been developed primarily through the deposit of new issues and reprints of standard map and chart series produced by official mapping and charting agencies and also through the transfer of obsolete and superseded materials from federal map libraries, particularly the former Army Map Service (AMS) Library and its successor, the Defense Mapping Agency Hydrographic/Topographic Center Library. International exchanges and purchases coordinated by an interagency procurement committee directed by the State Department, a program that dates from 1948, have also been a major source of maps.

César-François Cassini, J. Andriveau-Goujon, Société de la carte de France, and Dépôt de la guerre. Carte de france. 1756-[1818]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

The earliest multisheet map series is the Carte géométrique de la France, or more commonly, Carte de Cassini, completed by César François Cassini de Thury and his son Jacques-Dominique in 1789 (180 sheets at the scale of 1:86,400). The first general topographic map of the an entire country based on a network of meticulously surveyed triangles, the Carte de Cassini established the basic principles of national mapping which are still employed throughout the world today. A year later the British Ordnance Survey was established to prepare a topographic map of England and Ireland for military and administrative purposes. Similar national surveys were soon begun in other European countries, all of which are found in the Library's collection.

European colonial powers were the first to undertake large-scale topographic surveys in other parts of the world. The British established the Survey of India in 1767 but it was not until 1802 that a geodetic triangulation of the subcontinent was begun and the first period of topographic surveys initiated. The Dutch Topographic Service began mapping in the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) in the 1860s. Similarly, the first official topographic maps of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were prepared by the French Army's Topographic Bureau in 1886. Most other national topographic mapping programs were created in the twentieth century. For historical research, these series are especially valuable because individual sheets were revised periodically to reflect internal improvements such as canals, roads, and railroads, growth of urban areas, and boundary and name changes.

Large-scale map series of Central and East European countries are among the most frequently consulted maps in the collections because of their value to genealogists attempting to locate the names of towns from which their ancestors emigrated. The Karte des Deutschen Reiches, for example, consists of 674 separate map sheets. Most of these sheets were revised one or more times resulting in a total count of 4,074 map sheets covering the period from 1879 to 1944. Printed at a scale of 1:100,000 by the German mapping organization Riechsamt für Landesaufnahme, this series provides geographic coverage for pre-World War II Germany, which included parts of present-day Poland and Russia.

The division has a nearly complete set of the various series of topographic maps of the United States issued by the U.S. Geological Survey. The most detailed current topographic maps are at the scale of 1:24,000 for forty-nine states and 1:63,360 for Alaska.

Series at 1:100,000 and 1:250,000 are complete for the country. There are also historic series dating from the 1880s at scales of 1:62,500, 1:125,000, and 1:250,000.

Topographic surveys are valuable in part because they serve as a framework on which other information can be mapped. Geological information, in particular, is best understood when presented in relation to surface topography. The multi-sheet map collection is particularly strong with respect to geological maps. The earliest represented is the geologic survey of Saxony, begun in 1830 under the direction of Carl Friedrich Nauman and Carl Bernhard von Cotta, geologists associated with the famed mining academy in Freiberg. The Library also has extensive holdings of the Geological Survey of England and Wales, the first national geological survey which began in 1835 with the appointment of Henry de la Beche, an English stratigrapher and structural geologist. Since color is crucial to the portrayal of geological information, these early maps were meticulously hand colored with as many as seventy different tints displayed to distinguish different rock units.

Jacques Nicolas Bellin, Etienne-François, duc de Choiseul, and France. Dépôt des cartes et plans de la marine. Carte réduite de l'isle de Cube. 1762. Geography and Map Division.
Jacques Nicolas Bellin, Etienne-François, duc de Choiseul, and France. Dépôt des cartes et plans de la marine. Carte réduite de l'isle de Cube. 1762. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

The development of cartography during and after the Renaissance was closely intertwined with nautical charting; subsequently, modern hydrographic surveying has become a highly specialized and separate discipline. A major component of the Division's multi-sheet map series is the official nautical charts produced by fifty-five nations. New charts and editions contribute to the steady stream of new receipts each year. The entire history of nautical charting is well represented in the collections.

The beginning of organized hydrographic surveying and chart production at a national level can also be traced to France with the founding of Le Depôt des Cartes et Plans de la Marine in 1720, shortly before César François Cassini de Thury began his work on the first national topographic map. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, the Royal Hydrographer and head of the agency, initiated a number of hydrographic atlases in the mid-1700s that covered the coasts of France as well as the rest of the world. In the mid-1830s, Adm. Jacques Hamelin, Director of the Depôt from 1832 until 1839, presented to the Naval Observatory in Washington, the predecessor of the U.S. Navy's Hydrographic Office, a set of French nautical charts bound in thirty-nine volumes that were subsequently transferred to the Library of Congress. The division's collection of loose-sheet, French nautical charts is housed in nearly one hundred drawers, containing approximately twenty thousand charts.

The British Admiralty's organized hydrographic activities date from 1795, with the appointment of Alexander Dalrymple to the position of Royal Hydrographer. Dalrymple, who had achieved considerable knowledge and expertise as the hydrographer for the East India Company, assembled several compilations of charts dating from 1703 to 1807, which are included in the division's atlas collection. After the appointment of Francis Beaufort to the position of hydrographer in 1829, the British Admiralty became the dominant charting organization in the world. The division's collection of loose-sheet British Admiralty charts, dating from the mid-1800s, is housed in approximately 350 drawers and contains an estimated 35,000 sheets.

The 1816 appointment of Ferdinand Hassler, a Swiss mathematician and surveyor, to head the U.S. Coast Survey, which had been established in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson, marked the beginning of significant charting activity in this country. Although its responsibilities have been expanded to include the maintenance of the nation's infrastructure of geodetic control stations and the production of aeronautical charts, the agency is still producing nautical charts of the United States under the name of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. As the country expanded, the Coast Survey extended its operations first from the Atlantic to the Gulf Coast, then to the Pacific waters of California, Oregon, and Washington, to Alaska, and finally to Hawaii and other islands in the Pacific. The division's holdings of Coast Survey charts include a collection housed in 250 drawers, containing an estimated 25,000 sheets.

As the U.S. Navy expanded its activities around the world in the early 1800s to provide protection for the nation's expanding maritime commerce, the Hydrographic Office was organized within the Navy Department to supervise the surveying and charting of foreign waters. This operation initially formed within the Naval Observatory, known as the Depot of Charts, under the direction of Lt. Charles Wilkes. After just a few years in this position, Wilkes left to head the U.S. Exploring Expedition in the years 1837 to 1842. The charts produced during that voyage to Antarctica, the Tuamotu Archipelago and the Society Islands, the Fiji and Samoa Groups, Hawaii, and the Northwest Coast of America were first published as a separate atlas but subsequently were used as the core material around which charting of foreign waters was developed. Wilkes's successor at the Depot of Charts, Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury, was instrumental in expanding the production of charts. For nearly one hundred forty years the Hydrographic Office operated as a separate entity, and the total production of the agency is represented by a collection of 170 drawers with approximately 17,000 sheets.

In addition to the charts of the United States, Great Britain, and France, the division has important historical charts from other countries, including Argentina, Australia, Japan, Germany, Latvia, Mexico, Spain, Russia, and the former Yugoslavia. A large number of captured Japanese and German charts were transferred to the division after World War II. Charts from this era reflect the fact that even after a century of organized chart making, the world's waters were still imperfectly known. The Japanese and American charts of Tarawa, for example, one of the costliest World War II invasions by U.S. Marines in the Pacific, were based on a survey made by the U.S. Exploring Expedition in 1841 and updated with just minor corrections by the British Admiralty in 1925!

The development of national mapping programs in the nineteenth century laid the foundation for multiple sheet series at various scales designed specifically for artillery and tactical use. For World War I, the collections include extensive series of French, British, German, and American maps at scales as large as 1:10,000 and 1:20,000 showing networks of trenches and positions of artillery units. Following the war, a special series of French maps was prepared to show the devastated regions.

U.S. Defense Mapping Agency and Great Britain Ordnance Survey. Joint operations graphic (Ground). 1965. Geography and Map Division.
U.S. Defense Mapping Agency and Great Britain Ordnance Survey. Joint operations graphic (Ground). 1965. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

A large number of the multi-sheet map series were also produced during World War II. All of the major military belligerents devoted extensive resources to compiling maps. The primary topographic map-producing organizations for the Allies were the British Directorate of Military Survey, War Office, Geographical Section, General Staff (GSGS), and the U. S. Army Map Service (AMS). In an unprecedented example of cooperation, Great Britain assumed primary responsibility for mapping the Eastern Hemisphere while the United States focused on the Western Hemisphere and the western Pacific. Their combined production totaled more than one billion printed sheets covering most of Europe, North Africa, and East and South Asia. Following World War II, the Library acquired a considerable number of German and Japanese military multi-sheet maps captured by American military units, particularly maps of Europe produced by the German Generalstab des Heeres (General Staff of the Army) and of northern and eastern China and Manchuria surveyed by the Japanese Kwantung Army, the Japanese General Staff, and the Japanese Imperial Survey during the 1930s. Among the captured maps are tactical and operational map series produced by the Soviet General'nyy Shtab Krasnoy Armii (General Staff of the Red Army), the Glavnoye Upravleniye Geodezii i Kartografii (GUGK), and the Narodyy Komissariat Vnutrennykh Del (NKVD) which had been initially captured by German forces, including some which contain German military maps printed on the verso.

Military map series prepared for American units in Korea and Vietnam are also housed in the division. The 1:50,000 scale maps for Vietnam (L7014 series) prepared by the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) are available for reference use but most large-scale military maps are restricted to official use. This restriction also applies to other DMA topographic series covering selected Third World countries.

The fall of the Iron Curtain and the liberalization of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe and Russia has provided a new opportunity to build upon the division's existing strong collection of early large-scale topographic maps of these countries. Since 1990 the Geography and Map Division has devoted considerable attention to acquiring cartographic resources from this region and other geographic areas where map distribution had been restricted. Through purchases, transfers, gifts, and exchange agreements, the Library of Congress has begun to fill a fifty-year gap in its international holdings. Detailed cartographic coverage has been acquired for Albania, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, the former Soviet Union, and the former Yugoslavia. Of special interest is the recent acquisition of large-scale coverage of Soviet mapping of London, Stockholm, Rotterdam, and forty-seven other cities.

U.S. Defense Mapping Agency. Topographic Center. Air-crash search-and-rescue map. Charlie Brown County Airport, Georgia. 1977. Geography and Map Division.
U.S. Defense Mapping Agency. Topographic Center. Air-crash search-and-rescue map. Charlie Brown County Airport, Georgia. 1977. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

The twentieth century saw the development of the aeronautical chart. In the early years of aviation, there were few navigational aids, and pilots used physical features on the ground as landmarks along their route. The earliest example of this type in the division is a series of Carte aéronautiqueissued by the French Service Géographique de l'Armée about 1911. About the same time, the Aéro-Club de France began issuing a series of "strip charts," narrow maps that showed the area along common flight paths. During World War I, the Carte de l'Aéro Club de France provided the primary aeronautical charts used on the Western Front.

In the United States, the U.S. Army Air Service began the production of air navigation strip maps in 1923 that showed prominent features along Army air routes between principal cities, and a year later the U.S. Hydrographic Office issued aviation charts of coastal areas. Following the passage of the Air Commerce Act in 1926, the Commerce Department's Coast and Geodetic Survey began compiling airway strip maps that provided coverage for an emerging civilian air industry and shortly thereafter introduced a standardized series of charts that covered the whole nation. The coverage of air navigation charts expanded dramatically during World War II with charts produced by all of the major air forces being well represented.

National Wetlands Inventory (U.S.). National Wetlands Inventory, [Maine]. 1979. Geography and Map Division.
National Wetlands Inventory (U.S.). National Wetlands Inventory, [Maine]. 1979. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Other multi-sheet maps focus on such special subjects as vegetation, forestry, soils, demography, and topics relating to environmental issues. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently deposited a set of almost nineteen thousand National Wetland Inventory maps that were prepared as the result of a 1986 Congressional action to aid industry, agriculture and government decision-making on this subject.